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Sombre scene Al Noor mosque as hearses collect victims

Author
Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Saturday, 16 March 2019, 6:00p.m.
The hearses wait patiently for their terrible assignment at the Deans Avenue cordon. (Photo / Newstalk ZB)
The hearses wait patiently for their terrible assignment at the Deans Avenue cordon. (Photo / Newstalk ZB)

Hearse after hearse pulls up at the Al Noor mosque.

They drive slowly, but with sombre purpose.

As they reach the intersection of Deans Ave the ever-gathering crowd parts to let them through, police lift the emergency tape and they glide through.

The silence is heavy at the cordon.

The scent of flowers, a pile growing by the hours, fills the air. People weep, hug, stand, sit.

The hearses wait patiently for their terrible assignment at the Deans Avenue cordon.

No one has a lot to say.

Most of them stop for a moment or two a the intersection, take in the floral tributes and read the notes.

"This is not NZ."
"Kia kaha."
"If New Zealand is a vessel of milk filled to the very brim - then consider immigrants as a pinch of sugar - we'll no bring the vessel to overflowing but make the milk sweeter."

Messages of hope and love, support and solidarity. A folded New Zealand flag.

The sweet smell of flowers is building at tribute sites.

The sweet smell of flowers is building at tribute sites.

It's eerie scenes as people gather quietly and solemnly, with many children in attendance.

Armed police have brown bags with a supplied packed lunch at their feet.

The people then meander through South Hagley Park, along the seemingly endless line of plastic police tape that flutters in the autumn breeze.

Still, they are quiet.

There simply isn't anything to say.

The walk is punctuated by more armed police - their hands still gripping Bushmaster rifles - ends when they reach the point in the park where the mosque is visible.

Today it is shrouded by black tarpaulins, the horror and tragedy that happened there hidden from everyone's view.

As police forensic staff mill around the scene, collecting crucial evidence, people in the park crouch down to write messages of support, love - anything they can think - on a large sheet.

"Stay strong."
"Our peaceful life in New Zealand for 21 years has been torn apart by this tragedy - we'll stay strong and united."
"This is not us."
"One nation together, one nation who loves, one nation who does not stand for this."
"You should have been safe."

Away from the park, Christchurch is a city of two halves.

It's half raw grief and half desperate normality.

People jog, they walk dogs, they shop.

To drive through Christchurch, with the remnants of the earthquakes still visible, it seems incredibly unfair for the city to be in the grip of such extreme trauma again.

It's too soon.

At the hospital you could feel the sheer weight of weariness as Grant Robertson, head of surgery, tried to describe how his staff were feeling.

"To be blunt," he said with a sigh.

"We've seen things that have been pretty terrible in the earthquakes. From my perspective just another type of those events."

In the cafe outside, staff are making free flat whites.

Allpress, a coffee company, had dropped off free beans. Hospital staff in scrubs wolf down free croissants and stand in the sunlight, briefly, before heading back inside.

Everything feels surreal. The sunlight is too bright. Joggers running through the park seem like Sims, acting out life.

It feels impossible that life can just go on when so many are dead.

Down at the police station, women drop off fresh baking for their heroes.

It's the least they can do, it's the only thing they can think to do to help.

A man pulls up in his car with nine large boxes of M&Ms that he wants to donate.

"Anything to help, you guys are doing awesome," he tells a young cop standing sentry out the front of the building.

The cop has been on his feet for four hours, he's got another six to go.

He's not complaining though, he points out with a kind smile that so many are far worse off than him today.

It's something on all of our minds - the pain, the grief, the sheer tragedy.

Other's loss.

Our loss.

Our people - gone but never forgotten.

 

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